Tormented [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Film Masters
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (21st April 2024).
The Film

Jazz pianist/composer Tom Stewart (Creature from the Black Lagoon's Richard Carlson) is moving up in the world: he’s got an upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall and he’s engaged to wed young Meg Hubbard (The Life Of Riley's Lugene Sanders), daughter of the island’s wealthiest resident. The only obstacle standing in his way is singer Vi Mason (Mission in Morocco's Juli Reding), an old flame who has no intentions of letting him go. They secretly meet on top of the island’s derelict lighthouse and she threatens him with incriminating love letters. When Vi leans against the rotten railing and ends up hanging from the ledge, Tom hesitates in helping her and she falls to her death. Reasoning to himself that it was an accident, Tom retrieves her body from the surf the next day only for it to decay into seaweed before his eyes. From that point on, Vi makes spectral presence to Tom as she vows to prevent him from marrying Meg.

Had it been directed by anyone other than Bert I. Gordon – aka Mr. B.I.G. of oversized creature features like King Dinosaur and The Food of the GodsTormented might have been a neat overtly supernatural twist on the film noir genre with Carlson’s bachelor pinning his future happiness on a marriage while being haunted by reminders of a possessive former love from his supposedly less respectable past (i.e. jazz sleaze). Vi’s ghostly presence is apparent first as a series of footsteps in the sand following Tom and Meg down the beach (washed away by the waves after Tom sees them), and then a cold chill and clumps of seaweed – common signs of a haunting on the island according to Tom’s blind landlady (The Wild and the Innocent's Lillian Adams) – the scent of her perfume, and her singing voice on a jazz record – actually that of The Sunnysiders' Margie Rayburn singing Gordon regular Albert Glasser's theme song – that keeps finding itself in Tom’s player. Soon, however, she turns up as a disembodied voice and then in traditional transparent superimpositions. Gordon himself supervised the visual effects with his wife Flora, and the camera quickly veer towards the laughable with a black velvet-wrapped disembodied hand and later Vi’s nagging head substituted by an obvious mannequin head when Carlson makes a grab at it, in a shot that must have provoked howls of laughter back in 1960.

A bigger problem than the special effects is the storytelling which lacks any real subtlety that might have actually had the audience questioning if it is all in Tom’s mind – he wouldn’t be the first or last technically blameless protagonist haunted by his own inability or unwillingness to do the right thing – that said, I don't think it was deserving of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 slagging, and the final scene is perfect. The cast take it seriously though, with Carlson sympathetic as the guilt-ridden hero even during the climax when his desperation causes him to turn against his only friend. Reding is indeed entertaining and alluring as the ghost (the rest of her career would consist of TV guest roles amidst her extremely busy and tumultuous personal life). At first it seems that Gordon’s daughter Susan (Picture Mommy Dead) was cast as the usual cutesy kid character – here as Meg’s little sister Sandy – but she actually gives a strong performance; and the strain the haunting puts on the relationship between Sandy and Tom – whom she idolizes – is far more compelling than the one between Tom and his fiancée. Joe Turkel – who would later gain cult fame from his prominent supporting roles in The Shining and Blade Runner – shows up late in the film to blackmail Tom, and Gordon regular Merritt Stone (Earth vs The Spider) plays minister who performs Tom and Meg’s supernaturally-interrupted ceremony. The film’s story was conceived by Gordon and scripted by George Worthing Yates (Them!) who was the nephew of Consolidated Film Industries (CFI) film lab president Herbert J. Yates.


A staple of public domain labels following its Allied Artists theatrical and television syndication releases, Tormented's first legitimate release came from Warner Archive as part of their manufactured-on-demand DVD-R releases featuring an attractive if not perfect anamorphic widescreen transfer (the credits might have been sourced from another element or always inferior-looking compared to Gordon's opticals within the film). A 2022 German Blu-ray release did not have the luxury of whatever elements Warner had from the Allied Artists library and was reportedly a composite of multiple prints – with apparently less latitude for grading since it looked overall grayer and lacked the sleek blacks and whites of studio DP Ernest Laszlo's slick work. Film Masters' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray looks similar in terms of grading to the Warner master, albeit shifting the matting slightly downward to little effect apart from the memorable shot of Vi hanging from the broken lighthouse balcony railing which is slightly crops her grasping fingers at the top of the frame. Some of the opticals are graded a little lighter than before, including the famous shot of Tom holding Vi's disembodied head in which we can now see that even Carlson's arm is semi-transparent against the background. The editing jumps in the "stop motion" animation of the spectral footprints following Tom and Meg are as apparent as they always were.


Like other Film Masters Blu-rays, audio options include identical DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono tracks. Dialogue is always intelligible – including ghostly echoes – and sound effects are supportive but flatter – including distant waves that got lost in the hiss of older transfers – while the scoring and jazz performances have always had more presence in the mix as they do here, lending it more of a quality of remembrance than just aural wallpaper. Optional English SDH subtiltes are included for the film and most of the extras (including the commentary).


Extras start off with a new audio commentary by film historian/writer/filmmaker Gary Don Rhodes who reveals that despite Gordon's notoriety with big creature features, his "Mr. B.I.G." moniker was coined by Forest J. Ackerman, and that Tormented was always considered an "out of the ordinary" work in the director's filmography, mounted as one of his first independent productions after a stint with American International. Despite the ghostly elements of the storyline, it was always Gordon's intent that it be a fantasy film rather than a "horror film" with the spectacle of the film's special effects intended to be emphasized. Rhodes is a fan of the film but notes the lack of documentation on the film – suggesting of its release and critical reception that Gordon was more preoccupied by a lawsuit he filed against American International around the time – and also reveals that he was unable to gather any significant information from late friend Turkel who did not have good memories of the film due to Carlson, making Rhodes reticent to ask further.

Due to the film's underwhelming theatrical reception, Gordon apparently did try to find more of an audience for it as the pilot of a proposed series called Famous Ghost Stories hosted by Vincent Price, the introduction and post-script of which can be found on the disc as "Untold Ghost Stories (4:14); however, the full version can be found on some streaming services, which may be the full broadcast master of possibly an old fullscreen transfer of the film – minus original credits – added to the Price footage (apart from "special guest star Richard Carlson" and the series credits, there are no credits on that version for the original film).

"Bert I. Gordon in the 1950s & 1960s: Bigger Than Life" (39:25) is a documentary in which filmmaker C. Courtney Joyner affectionately discusses the director's filmography and the recurring themes of social commentary amidst the mutants and monsters, stressing the underlying humanity that Gordon that was of equal interest to Gordon as his DIY special visual effects.

More relevant to the film is "The Spirit is Willing: CineMagic and Social Discord in Bert I. Gordon's Tormented" (20:13), a visual essay by The Flying Maciste Brothers – that is, Howard S. Berger and Kevin Marr – who describe Gordon with respect to the film as an "accidental surrealist" and point out the thematic significance of the film's character and visual elements in a manner that other film historians and critics have ascribed with deliberation to Roger Corman with his Poe films; and they note, perhaps, that critics and viewers might have been less appreciative of the complexity of the film's thematic and symbolic elements because it sits somewhere between the Hammer/AIP sixties gothics and the coming wave of independent gore films. It is a thought-provoking piece that makes viewing the film again quite rewarding, and makes one wonder how the same film might have been received with a name like Corman or William Castle attached to it.

"Bert I. Gordon: The Amazing Colossal Filmmaker" (7:52) is an all-too-brief archival interview with Gordon who discusses figuring out visual effects as a youth with a 16mm camera, making television commercials in St. Paul before deciding to move his family to Los Angeles where he worked at an optical house and was approached by a man who approached him about making a movie, leading to King Dinosaur whereupon said partner up and disappeared with the profits. He then discusses his subsequent independent efforts leading to his American International films.

The disc also includes the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" episode of Tormented (91:42) from 1992 – the value of which may vary depending on the viewer – along with the original trailer (2:11) which is the theatrical trailer from a 4K scan of worn 35mm elements, and a 2024 re-cut trailer (2:01) utilizing the new feature master and much better executed than similar attempts on earlier releases.


Included with the disc is a 24-page booklet with an essay by film historian Tom Weaver which also emphasizes the unusual genre subject for Gordon given his science fiction-oriented earlier works as well as an appreciation of its qualities and its cast, and a brief account of its theatrical reception. The booklet also includes "The Boy and His Film Favorite" by novelist-filmmaker John Wooley on his appreciation of and lifelong friendship with Susan Gordon.


Had it been directed by anyone other than "Mr. B.I.G." Bert I. Gordon of the oversized creature features, Tormented might have been a neat overtly supernatural twist on the film noir genre.


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